By Pyotr Iskanderov
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared at the opening of the Russia-EU summit in Strelna, near St. Petersburg that the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline is due to begin at the end of this year and will take 18-24 months. The Russian leader said that last year the implementation of this project received an additional impetus after Turkey finally allowed laying a leg of the pipeline on the Black Sea bed. The project stipulates the capacity of the pipeline up to 63bn cubic metres of gas a year. It is approximately worth 15.5bn euros.
The South Stream natural gas pipeline, together with its northern counterpart the Nord Stream are two key elements in Russia’s strategy of guaranteeing Europe’s energy security. The main aim is to lower technical and especially political transit risks. In the last few years, Europeans came across the problem of shortages of Russian energy resources when the Ukrainian and Belarusian authorities, in their own interests, disrupted the fulfilment of their transit commitments and even siphoned off gas meant for Europeans. When the two Russian gas pipelines are put into operation, this problem will disappear.
A special role in this respect belongs to the South Stream, due to its greater length and the size of the territory covered by its infrastructure. It is worth remembering that the preparation of this large-scale project took less than five years, in spite of periodically arising difficulties, first of all, geopolitical ones.
The South Stream found itself in the focus of geopolitical games started by the EU from the very outset. Brussels sees energy security in isolating Russia from deliveries of energy resources. For this purpose, the European Commission allocated a grant for carrying out a research within the Nabucco project as early as in 2003. The declaration adopted at the Nabucco Summit in Budapest in January 2009 characterised that project as ‘innovative, viable and reliable’, aiming at ‘directly connecting natural gas suppliers of the Middle East and the Caspian Region with the EU, Turkey and Georgia’.
However, in practice Nabucco turned out non-viable and unreliable. After the failure of attempts to find the required amount of gas for the planned diameter of the pipe, European experts stated with regret that the cost of the project, instead of the initial 8bn euros, would be at least 14bn. As a result, according to the western media, the European Commission is already prepared to give up this unprofitable project but still fears to say so.